Is It My Gallbladder or IBS?

As most of us know, IBS is such a complicated condition. It can exhibit a wide range of symptoms they vary from person to person, which could cause misdiagnosis or even just be overlooked! Gallbladder disease is one condition that produces similar symptoms that IBS can be mistaken for. As a nurse, I’ve heard a lot of talk and concern about the gallbladder. I’ve also seen how it is worked up and treated within a healthcare setting, and the number of people it affects is truly unreal. One interesting statement I’ve heard on multiple occasions is, “my pain is worse since I got my gallbladder removed.” I’ve never really thought to find out why this might be - I always left that up to the physician, but the more I heard it, the more I became interested in “why?”

The gallbladder is a four-inch, pear-shaped organ that is in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen. It stores bile, fluids, fat, and cholesterol. Gallbladder disease can cause anything from nausea and diarrhea to gallstones. I believe, because of the pain, nausea, diarrhea symptoms, that gallbladder issues can sometimes be mistaken for IBS.

Gallbladder and IBS

So let’s say you have a history of IBS and have your gallbladder removed. Is this going to alleviate your IBS symptoms? Probably not, and more than likely it will not help your gallbladder symptoms either. Why is this? Apparently, the pain of gallbladder bouts due to bile duct blockages can still occur because the gallstones may start to form in the liver ducts. This is why it is important to find any underlying causes for the gallstones before possibly having your gallbladder unnecessarily removed!1 Also, difficulty digesting high fat meals and fried foods is a very common gallbladder symptom before gallbladder removal because of stones and inflammation blocking its function and the flow of bile.2 After a gallbladder removal, the bile continues to leak into the small intestine, and the difficulty of digesting high-fat meals remains an issue. Wow! This made so much sense!

Research has shown that patients who have IBS are more likely to have cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal), although they do not have any confirmed gallstones. For a person who already experiences GI difficulties, this may lead to worsening symptoms.3 This is exactly what I have witnessed working in the medical field, and why I will ALWAYS stress the importance of finding a physician that is patient, and willing to go the extra mile. I know that isn’t always easy, but if it can reduce any unnecessary surgeries or procedures, I believe it will be worth the fight!

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